Setup & Calibrations Part 1 Speaker placement

I was surprised not to see any treads on this subject since it is the single most important aspect of any hi-ed audio system. I would like to start by pointing out the importance of speaker placement, which is both a science and a art form. Oh sure we can talk about room dimensions, Acoustics, room treatment its endless. I would like to give you some of my advice on this subject for what its worth. I have been Selling, and designing systems for over thirty years and have what I think mastered the Art of speaker placement. It does take time and patience, (at minumum hours,sometimes days)but I truly believe its the single most important part of a fine system. Do not try placing speakers with room acoustical treatment in the room! Just leave what furniture you have to use in the room and thats all. Your objective is to get the bass & soundstage perspective correct at the listeners position. When that is done then you can one by one add your acoustical treatment to help define the soundstage and tonal balance the way you want it. My self I prefer setting up my speakers on the LONG Wall, Yes you heard that correct lol. One I find that Bass is more tunefull in most cases and there is no doubt that it throws a wider more holographic sound stage. I truly think its better in everyway. Granted if you have a very narrow room than that may not be practical. Try it both ways though. I usually start with the 1/3 rule for starters. I have to say its pretty consistant and gets you in the ball park. So 1/3 out from front wall. If you cant do thirds try 5ths, etc. The closer to the back wall will give you more bass of course but you want the bass to be very linear and tunefull. Play some stand up bass, piano, and you want to hear all notes evenly, its wrong if evey note sounds like one note !Distance from the side walls will add more upper bass or lower midrange so you will have to play with both the back wall and side wall distances to get just the right balance. I use tape on the floor to give me points of reference I can always go back to if I get lost. I usually start with my speakers about 8 feet apart and move them farther or closer depending on the sitting distance and the side walls. I listen for three thing. (1) Were I hear all bass notes clearly and tunefully (2)Good mono content, voices and instruments have good presence but open sounding. There is a fine line where if you get the speakers to far apart voices and instruments will sound larger than life. (3) You are trying to find the best position for Bass, & Soundstage. when you've achieved that you'll also notice that the room will have the least effect on the sound. Then at that point you can add your acoustical treatment to fine tune the end result. I myself try to use the least amount of acoustical treatment as possible. I am always surprised how people have this idea that you want to make the room dead. lol Im sorry but reflections are good, the key is to delay them. Defusion is a much better choice with as little absorbtion as possible. Problem with absorbtion materials is they are not linear at all frequency's. So you have to be real careful what materials you try. I will try to post a article on the coefficientcy's of different materials to show you that its critical to choose material carefully. I use as little absorbtion as possible to keep the sound live, dynamic and open sounding. Defusion is the better answer ! I will post more on this subject and talk about speaker toe in, bass issues, and treatment in my next post. Look forward to your posts & feel free to ask any questions Kevin
I agree with many of your points. I will never understand why so many people don't take the time to move their speakers around a bit. I have moved mine 1000 times, usually a 1/4 inch at a time. I even move mine when I change amplifiers or even sources, to get back to what I feel is the correct sound.

Which brings me to a point I would like to add. In my experience, speaker placement is not independant of speaker type, or even associated electronics. In other words, not all speakers like the same positions even if their drivers are similar and that changing gear can alter the soundstaging and imaging to the extent that more moving is required.

Also, I start with the golden ratio: 1.618. This would be more like a 2/3 rule rather than a 1/3 rule and I find it works GREAT. But again, it depends on the speaker.

Something that I often find overlooked, and that can make a dramatic improvement, is toe-in. Many people I meet will have the speakers pointing straight out just because they THINK that is how it should LOOK but so far, I have found that (especially in smaller rooms), toe-in is a requirement for correctly sized imaging and appropriate definition. Anyone familiar with manual focus on a camera can appreciate the fact there is infinite difference between being slightly out-of-focus and in-focus. Toe-in allows this critical adjustment to be made. Afterall, we are dealing with sound wave focusing....

I totally agree with your room treatment philosophy. I have had the opportunity to hear speakers in an anechoic chamber and the sound was terrible!! No life at all and the sound was anything but "live." Since then, I make sure not to fall in that trap and I use strategically placed furniture along the side walls to break-up the reflections. Works great for me, as much for looks as for sound.

I have been working at this for years. I have used about every Vandersteen speaker available at one point and have found without proper placement, you do get what has been describe as "The Vandersteen sound." And I can say with proper placement that they become much more open, holographic and DO NOT sound rolled off(or have that described sound.)This goes for non-time aligned speakers. They can go from harsh to soft in a very short distance. I think this is why you end up with so many good components for sell. They are blamed for room ills.
A friend of mine told me an easy way to move speakers around that I really hadn't thought of. Use the small little furniture moving slides. These things work great. I leave the spikes on the speaker and set the spike into the slide. You can now easily move them any place and any amount you want.
I have discovered that Vandersteen's sound good about anywhere BUT they will perform at a much higher level when placed correctly. I've thought I've had good sound in the past only to find it really wasn't.
I am amazed how positioning effects soundstaging going from sound between the speakers to sound way out past the boundaries. Usually when the speaker is close, it no longer sounds like music is coming from a speaker. It just exists in space. (Of course with Vandy's, tilt back is really important.)
I have found all speakers benefit from this effort and I'm amazed people don't really discuss this much. The difference is not slight, it's huge in a lot of cases.
I agree with Aball, toe can be very beneficial. I have also found slight chair adjustments work to fine tune.
I generally used odd number placements like division by 3, 5 or 7. Then make small 360 degree moves from that point. It seems to work well in my room.
I hope we get more ideas from this thread. It's a good one.
This should be discussed more - small changes in placement can make a surprisingly large difference in sound. I have a problem which you all may be able to help me solve in this regard. I have experimented with many different placements for my speakers, using the test tones on the Editor's Choice CD from Stereophile. Somehow, although the speakers sound quite accurate/even with these test tones, there is a resonance of some sort that I hear on acoustic jazz bass. It appears to be towards the middle of the bass range, not right at the bottom. Any ideas? Why wouldn't this show up on the test tones? Is it possibly merely a resonance of the instrument (ie. not the speakers' fault)?

Thanks in advance for your help.
Anonymous “I have been Selling, and designing systems for over thirty years and have what I think mastered the Art of speaker placement”

What do you sell and design? What is the name of your store and products?

“Do not try placing speakers with room acoustical treatment in the room!”

Not true. You should not try cure the effect of standing waves with speaker placement. Standing waves are the consequence of room modes, totally independent of your speaker placement.

Treat the standing wave and place speakers were the manufacturer recommends. Placing acoustical treatment and final speaker placement is an overlapping process.

“Just leave what furniture you have to use in the room and thats all.”

Furniture is acoustical treatment. So you do place speaker after some treatment after all.

“I usually start with the 1/3 rule for starters”

Really? Speaker manufacturers don’t say that. Ed’s (Hornshoppe) horns have to be placed in the corners, irrespective of how big your room is. Ditto for Klipsch corner horns.

How about bookshelf speakers? Are you going to start of placing them 10’ from the rear wall in a 30’ room? Wouldn’t it be better to place them where the manufacturer recommends and then fine-tune? You’ll get them set up a lot faster by following manufacturers recommendation to get you into the ballpark.

“Then at that point you can add your acoustical treatment to fine tune the end result.”

Really? So when newly placed bass traps reduce standing waves and as a result your bass becomes too loud (or soft), you should not move your speakers? I did.

I notice you post anonymously rather than using your registered name. I assume you are registered since you said you have been selling and designing hi-fi for 30 years. Why do you post anonymously?

Thanks for all your posts everyone, its a fun, and certainly controversial subject. I have only scratched the surface about this subject and honestly have only given you my starting point to setting up speakers. I find this works with a majority of the speakers out there. I absolutely agree Arthur and a point I did'nt address (because I didnt want to make my first post to darn long that no one would read it lol) that anytime you change anything in the system, you may and most likely will have to make small ajustments to your speaker position. Toe in is another subject I didnt touch as well. breefly It depends on the speakers, distance from side walls. Yes a majority of speakers bennefit from atleast slight toe in. For example I found that thiels to me sounded best straight on, one because there tweeters sound more natural off axis, they tend to be a little hot on axis. They also sound more open and soundstage better. Where as Aerial Acoustics sound better toed in quite a bit. Another part of this subject I also really wanted to touch base on that is so important, almost deserves its own tread is perspective. I always ask or determine how my customers like to listen to live music when they go to concerts. For instance I have a friend/slash customer whom I spend many years designing and setting up his system, likes to hear his music as if he's sitting front row center at a concert. Well maybe not quite that close lol but a closer perspective than I do. Where I like to sit more mid field where I like to be drawn into the music. There is no wrong or right here its just personal preferance, But that does effect speaker placement, type of speaker, and electronics.

Bigtee thats a need little trick with the sliders I usually move my speakers around without spikes to get them close then fine tune it with the spikes on. We all know how hard that is lol.

James: Do you find that this resonance happens in many other recording, not just the one with the standup bass ? I'm thinking its ether your hearing a resonance in the room, or its in the roecording ether the instrument or the room they recorded it in. Room node, or standing waves are quite honestly very hard to get rid of. I dont like introducing anything electronic into the chain to address this issue, but I have tried a few with some decent results without totally screwing up the fidelity of the system. passively is a whole other subject but I will touch it breefly. I have found its really impossible to effect bass to any real degree maybe a 1/2 to 1 db at max or so with acoustical treatment. Now helmholtz resonators build into the walls and tuned to specific frequencys will work to more significant degree. So that is something you can try and experiment with if you find that is your issue. I would try a wide range of recording a determine if its your room, or speakers, or the recording. Then go from there, Let me know.

So Im thinking its the room resonance nodes which quite honestly will be difficult to address and most of put up with it to some degree, unless you have unlimited budget, time, and no girl friend or wife lol.

Paul: Hey some good points you've brought up. I have poked my head around audiogon for years but really never did much or say much until now. At the moment Im not working for a store, I am independent and doing my own thing. I dont have a store, its strickly referal only. I would love nothing more than to have my own shop someday its just not in the cards right now. Maybe someday.

My name is Kevin LaTour so its not Anonymous anymore lol if that makes you feel more comfortable. I've worked for Christopher Hansens in Beverly hills for years when it was around and another hi end store that I wont mention (for respect of my friend and owner of the store, incase he does'nt agree with my philosophys lol) But we specialized in tube electronics which I am a big fan of and analog (turntables) play back systems. I go all over the country setting up turntables and systems.

Anyway yes you bring up some good points. Yes many manufactures design and tune there speakers at certain distances from the walls. infact linn speakers are designed and tuned to be right against the walls. Now its my understanding that Linn doesnt believe in soundstaging. Now granted tonal balance should be number one priority, but for me soundstaging is the fun part, and im sorry I know and believe it exists. Maybe not in every recording but all that are recorded with minimal miking, live straight to tape. Many of your Classical and Jazz recording are done this way. Hey I can even hear if the instruments are behind the microphones or infront of them. Talk about surround sound lol. Yes most of the older horn speakers like a Klipsh horn were tuned and designed against the walls. La scalla's were my favorites in the days. Haven't heard them in years lol might be fun. I use a small pair of book shelf speakers now (cause the girl friend lol) and yes I have them almost in the middle of the room when I do serious listening. ( I have marks on the floors that I can just pull them out when i want to listen to music).

Yes all rooms have nodes and standing waves, and again unless you have a big budget, dedicated room, then realisticly we may have to put up with a slightly less than ideal situation. I have concreate floors with a large area rug, and a couch. The nice thing is, believe it or not I have NO PARALLEL WALLS in my living room. I know its hard to believe but true lol cool ha ? Sonically its a pretty good sounding room.

Again I feel placing your speakers without room treatment is the way to go because, one I find its very hard to place your speakers. I can hear the room treatment. You dont know the end placement of the speaker so they may need to be moved as well. I find when I have the speakers in the correct place I find I hear less of the issues with the room, which in turn means less room treatment, which in my book is a good thing !

I look forward to more on this subject and thanks for the posts guys. Good luck and happy listening. Kevin
I think long wall placement is flawed and will not give good results as OFTEN as short wall placement, some speakers thrive on the long wall like Dunlavy, but from all I have ever seen (and I have not seen it all) in general your wall placement isnt as ideal......this issue has been gone over time and time again and I find it odd you thought you were the first but I enjoy reading it all the same, also looks like your a new member so welcome to the fun!
I believe there is merit in much of what is said above. Sometimes though, speaker placement is not all that flexible, as in my installation.

See the link below and scroll down quite aways to the section on "main speaker placement". If nothing else, it might be some interesting reading for those who are new. For James, this might provide some insight into your issue too: